Tips on How to Maintain Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 20, 2020 Updated: March 23, 2020
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COVID-19, the disease that has claimed over 10,000 lives around the world as of March 19, has many people feeling stressed, worried, and anxious.

Since the World Health Organization declared the CCP virus a pandemic on March 11, federal and state officials have taken quick actions to try to slow the spread of the disease by closing schools, certain businesses, and having people work from home.

The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mishandling allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.

Studies have found that exposure to stress may lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, and sleep problems. Even small, everyday stressors such as holding on to a negative emotion can lead to long-term health issues, according to a study published in Psychological Science in 2018. Stress is also known to worsen pre-existing mental health issues.

“The important thing for people to know is that stress is very bad for our health,” Professor Ellen Langer, considered the “mother of mindfulness” at the Department of Psychology at Harvard, told The Epoch Times. “Part of the stress that people are experiencing now comes from the uncertainty about likelihood that they themselves contracting the virus and the consequences that could befall them if they did contract it.”

Dr. Shainna, mental health counselor, educator, and advocate, said to The Epoch Times, “In terms of the pandemic’s affect, because of the virus and it is a physical illness, we’re focusing a lot on the impact on our physical well-being. It’s important to recognize that we have other aspects of our wellness and that they’re also being affected.”

Both experts stress that it is important to take care of our mental health during these challenging times.

Coping Strategies

There are many different strategies to help promote and maintain mental well-being.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers recommendations that include giving yourself time away “from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.” Constant news digestion about the pandemic can lead to anxiety and worry.

Langer said, “While we might not at present have a cure for the virus, there are things that we can do to keep ourselves calmer. One of those things we can do is to engage in activities other than sitting there watching the news and getting scared.”

Langer has been researching mindfulness for 40 years and written books about it. Mindfulness “means to be actively engaged, actively noticing new things around you, and that the more mindful we are the less stressful we’ll be,” Langer said.

People can practice mindfulness any time by simply taking fresh notice of things around them that are normally taken for granted.

“Active noticing is the essence of engagement,” Langer said. “And 40 years of research has made clear that this active engagement is in itself good for your health. So it’s not just that it feels good, it is good for you.”

Shainna says most people often overlook deep breathing, which can lower stress. “It might seem like nothing, it’s just a deep breath. But physiologically, when you’re taking a quality breath, you are then getting oxygen to the brain. And if you’re slowing the breath down, you are also slowing down the heart rate.”

Other activities that can be done to help in coping with stress include taking the opportunity to catch up with and have meaningful interactions with family and friends using video chat apps, organizing cleanings that had been put off, resting, writing, and learning a new skill like cooking or painting.

Practicing social distancing does not mean social isolation. For people who want to interact with others while in the safe space of their home, “there are a lot of [online] community groups popping up. Find community in creative places like Netflix Party,” said Shainna.

For those in need of counseling, healthcare providers now offer telehealth to their members. According to Shainna, many counselors are now offering the online service. She also recommends joining virtual support groups.

Nutrition

fruits and vegetables at food market
Cooking begins before you step foot in the kitchen. (Shutterstock)

Jerlyn Jones, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told The Epoch Times: “The foods to help with increasing our immune system or make it stronger, there are certain foods such as fruits and vegetables that have phytochemicals and antioxidants. Those are vital compounds that protect our cells from the effect of free radicals and oxidative stress that lowers our bodies’ ability to fight back.”

Foods high in the antioxidant vitamin C should be increased in people’s daily meal plans. These include oranges, kiwis, cantaloupe, broccoli, bell peppers, kale, spinach, beets, and artichokes.

When it comes to vitamin C supplements, Jones said: “You want to make sure that there’s a third-party verification designation on the bottle so you know those ingredients in the container are safe and checked by another party.” Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

Fermented foods should also be added to the diet to help support gut health since they are rich in probiotics. “If you are feeling anxious and stressed out, that can affect your gut and so have more fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, or kimchi,” Jones said.

When feeling stressed, Jones recommends avoiding “highly processed foods and foods that are high in refined sugar because those foods cause your energy to spike and then you crash after you eat.”

“Those foods are fried foods, sweets, and desserts such as cakes, donuts, cupcakes high in sugar, sweetened beverages like juice, soda, energy drinks. I recommend staying hydrated with water instead of fruit juice, sweet tea, soda, or lemonade.”

Wines and beers are also on Jones’s list of foods and drinks to avoid when feeling stressed. “Too much alcohol can affect your sleeping pattern,” Jones said. “Inadequate sleep can increase your anxiety and your stress.”

“Even though drinking is a good way to calm your nerves, it can also cause a spike that you see in your blood sugar and it can dehydrate you. Really refrain from having alcohol, and if you do, what’s recommended is only one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.”

Physical Movements

Studies show that exercising and physical activity reduces stress and depression. Physical activities range from taking walks outdoors (while practicing social distancing), running, working out, and doing slow-moving exercises like qigong (chee-gong), tai chi, and yoga.

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows tai chi is really good in helping strength and joint mobility, particularly the balance,” Jared West, a licensed acupuncturist, told The Epoch Times. “I heard that Australia is now covering tai chi now in their health system because they’ve found people are so much less likely to fall and it’s less expensive to pay for a tai chi class versus paying for hip surgery and rehabilitation.”

West practices Tao Ahn Pai, a qigong that is rooted in Taoism. He said slow-moving exercises like qigong and tai chi are “great for overall health, for mind and body.” They can also calm the nervous system.

“It allows you to care for yourself on a daily basis and keep your energy balanced and strong. It opens the door up for overall health and well-being. There’s so many different forms and different ways you can use qigong, everything from meditation to movement practice.”

Qigong is a mind-body exercise that involves deep breathing, stretching, and meditation. There are many different types of qigong practices. Some can be as simple as focusing on breathing and meditation for physical health, while others involve doing gentle exercises and meditation to improve one’s spiritual growth, such as Falun Dafa.

West said, “the most important thing about qigong is what you do, you should feel comfortable, it’s your body and energy. It’s about learning to listen to yourself, listen to your body and support it.”